Newcomers who decide to follow Buddhism, for the most part, assume that the Buddha fought against the idea of a transcendent self or the Vedantic Âtman, although this is not something evident in the early canon of Buddhism.
There is hardly any mention of the “Vedanta school” in Chinese Buddhist texts (Nakamura, A History of Early Vedanta Philosophy, p. 131) and certainly no mention of the Upanishads nor a Vedanta school in early Buddhist scriptures (ibid., p. 134). This seems unusual given the fact that the early Upanishads are prior to Buddhism. But what is more unusual is how do some Buddhist scholars come up with the theory that early Buddhism was opposed to the Upanishads and in particular, a transcendent self or âtman? And just because the Buddha often conversed with Brahmins, we should not jump to the conclusion that these Brahmins were members of the Vedanta school who believed in a transcendent âtman/self.
In addition to the above, there is no evidence in the Pali Nikays of the Buddha sitting down with a Brahmin or Brahmins who believed in a transcendent self. In the Pothapada Sutta (D. i. 194), the Buddha speaks of three concepts of self which he wants to get rid of: a material (olarika) self, a mental (manomaya) self, and a formless (arupa) self. There is no mention of getting rid of a transcendent self.
What I am saying here is by no means the final word, but it is enough, I hope, to disabuse some pop Buddhists of their wrong understanding of self in Buddhism which may help then to further understand what the correct doctrine of anattâ/anâtman is (i.e., nonself) is. In a nutshell, it is the doctrine that our psychophysical body is not the self, and that we should not identify with this body.