With regard to selflessness, it is necessary to know what “self” is—to identify the self that does not exist. Then one can understand its opposite, selflessness. Selflessness is not a case of something that existed in the past becoming non-existent; rather, this sort of “self” is something that never did exist. What is needed is to identify as non-existent something that always was nonexistent, for due to not having made such identification, we are drawn into the afflictive emotions of desire and hatred as well as all the problems these bring.
From Kindness, Clarity, and Insight by H.H. the Dalai Lama, page 52