Reading and understanding early Buddhism, which is found in the Nikayas/Agamas (the Pali Nikayas and the Chinese Agamas), takes a long time. Trying to find the golden thread that runs through these early discourses is extremely difficult. There is so much to learn about early Buddhism that it can be a turn-off to some people. Instead of taking this long, more difficult route, some opt for the short route which has little or no relationship with the early discourses of the Buddha. The desire for a quick answer often moves us away from authentic Buddhism.
Those who have opted for the short route are told that the self or attâ is the fundamental problem that we face. This is rather odd since the fundamental problem in the discourses of early Buddhism is craving the five khandhas which together comprise our psychophysical body which we take to be our self when, in fact, the psychophysical body is not our self or anattâ.
With regard to each one of the five khandhas or aggregates which are material shape, feeling, perception, habitual tendencies and consciousness, the Buddha's disciple understands: This is not mine, this am I not, this is not my self (M. i. 136). This is not a rejection of self but a rejection of what, upon examination, cannot be our self since the psychophysical body is impermanent and suffering whereas the true self is not (the self is implicitly unconditioned).
The world that we see through our psychophysical body (the five khandhas) is a false world because the basis of perceiving such a world is, itself, illusory. When we say, for example, there is no self, this cannot be true because the psychophysical body, which is our metric, is false! Thus we are inverted. We cling to what is suffering (the five khandhas are suffering) and reject what is not suffering, namely, the unconditioned which is the self insofar as the self is treated as always being spiritually separate from the five khandhas which are never other than conditioned (= they are suffering and impermanent).
This brings us, a fortiori, to conclude that nirvana cannot be found within the world of the five khandhas; nor can it be no-self (anattâ): If nirvana is understood as no-self, like the 5 khandhas, then nirvana must also be rejected since what is no-self is suffering and impermanent. Thus, there would be no purpose in taking the Noble Eightfold Path since it would only lead to what is not the self, or the same, suffering and impermanence.