Raj asked: “The common understanding is that the Buddha said that there is no self, but the question is what gets liberated?”
The Buddha never taught that there is no “self”. He did not teach there is a “self” either. He said those two are extremes. At every moment a living being exists due to causes accumulated in the past and conditions prevailing at that time (So, there is a “sufferer” at each moment.) That is explained in Paticca Samuppada. I plan to discuss this in detail in upcoming posts.
Based on that misinterpretation of anatta as “no-self”, a question that many people ask is what you asked in a different way: “Who attains Nibbana?”
Here is what the Buddha taught:
1. We all go through a rebirth process where one can be born human, Deva, animal, etc. Where one is reborn depends on what type of kamma (good or bad deeds) one has done not only in this life but also in previous lives.
2. The concept of “me” cannot be retained in that view. If one is reborn as an animal, then “WHO” is it? That animal or the human in the previous life?
3. Since most rebirths are in “bad realms” (like the animal realm), the Buddha said there is much more suffering in the rebirth process, even though pleasures are also there (for example, some humans don’t suffer that much, at least until old age).
4. Thus, there is no “me” in ultimate reality, However, as mentioned above, there is a “sufferer” until the rebirth process ends!
5. That “suffering-filled rebirth process” can be stopped by understanding how that rebirth process takes place. That is the teaching of the Buddha. It is called Paticca Samuppada. When one understands that process, one can see how to end the rebirth process.
“Anatta” does not mean “no-self”:
“Anicca, Dukkha, Anatta“