Someone just posted this in another thread - The Water-Snake Simile
. In particular, I think the translator's introduction is very good... not only it explains the wrong view of self, but also the wrong view of non-self.
Taken together, these two similes [the water-snake, and the raft] set the stage for the remainder of the discourse, which focuses on the teaching of not-self. This is one of the most easily misapprehended teachings in the Canon largely because it is possible to draw the wrong inferences from it.
The second mistaken inference is that, given the thoroughness with which the Buddha teaches not-self, one should draw the inference that there is no self. This inference is treated less explicitly in this discourse, although it is touched upon briefly in terms of what the Buddha teaches here and how he teaches.
In terms of what: He explicitly states he cannot envision a doctrine of self that, if clung to, would not lead to sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief, & despair. He does not list all the possible doctrines of self included under this statement, but MN 2 provides at least a partial list:
I have a self... I have no self... It is precisely by means of self that I perceive self... It is precisely by means of self that I perceive not-self... It is precisely by means of not-self that I perceive self... or... This very self of mine — the knower that is sensitive here & there to the ripening of good & bad actions — is the self of mine that is constant, everlasting, eternal, not subject to change, and will endure as long as eternity. This is called a thicket of views, a wilderness of views, a contortion of views, a writhing of views, a fetter of views. Bound by a fetter of views, the uninstructed run-of-the-mill person is not freed from birth, aging, & death, from sorrow, lamentation, pain, distress, & despair. He is not freed, I tell you, from suffering & stress.
Thus the view "I have no self" is just as much a doctrine of self as the view "I have a self." Because the act of clinging involves what the Buddha calls "I-making" — the creation of a sense of self — if one were to cling to the view that there is no self, one would be creating a very subtle sense of self around that view (see AN 4.24). But, as he says, the Dhamma is taught for "the elimination of all view-positions, determinations, biases, inclinations, & obsessions; for the stilling of all fabrications; for the relinquishing of all acquisitions; the ending of craving; dispassion; cessation; Unbinding."
So, the Dhamma is not about refuting the self, replacing it with a no-self (and then say that there's nothing to defend); it's eliminating the views of either, which both them lead to suffering.