All Buddhists will know about the Noble Eightfold Path. It is one of the first few things you learn when you get exposed to Buddhism. They teach it in Theravada, Mahayana, and Vajrayana schools. Even as a child, you get exposed to the Noble Eightfold Path. For a description, the Noble Eightfold Path is usually depicted on a Dharma Wheel with eight handles. Each of the handles represents one of the Eight. The list starts with Right view, right intention, and goes all the way to right mindfulness, and right concentration. Some teachers may suggest that you can start practicing from any one of the Eight. However, without understanding of what "Right" means, wherever you start, it will be wrong.
If you want to understand Buddhism, you cannot understand from superficial language. For example, what does "I take refuge with the Buddha" mean? Refuge in English roughly means to seek shelter. Hence, in plain English, "I seek shelter with the Buddha". Then here comes another term: Buddha. Who is the "Buddha"? There are many levels to this understanding. It also depends on the depth of faith that you have. For someone who just started, the "Buddha" means the "Enlightened person" which they can see, feel, or touch. It is a physical person or body. In this case, Prince Siddhartha who became the Buddha. This is correct. But if you really understand Buddhism, then "I take refuge with the Buddha" has a lot of deeper meaning than just taking refuge with The Buddha himself. What you see in the monasteries are not the Buddhas, but the Buddha statues. There is a difference. To take refuge with the Buddha means to return to the Buddha Nature that we all have. It is to return to the purity of our minds, not defiled by afflictions, distinctions, or attachments.
This is the same for the Noble Eightfold Path. To reach right samadhi, you need to have right mindfulness. To reach samadhi, one requires to have mindfulness at 100%, which means to be with the object 100%. Of course, one can have unwholesome samadhi, like samurais, who were trained in meditation. However that is not right concentration as it does not conform to the essence of Buddhism. Hence to cultivate in any one of the Noble Eightfold Path, one has to look what the prerequisites are. To have the Right Livelihood, one must perform Right Actions. To engage in Right Effort, your way of living must be Right first. To engage in Right speech, your thoughts must be Right. To engage in right thoughts, then you must have Right Understanding.
The Noble Eightfold Path hence falls back to one important point: Right Understanding. Without Right Understanding, your thoughts will not be right, which will result in unwholesome speech, and action. This will lead to improper livelihood, and effort. The result will be improper mindfulness and then unwholesome samadhi. Therefore Right Understanding is important.
It is then important for us to contemplate on these few points pertaining to Right Understanding. Without pondering or answering these few questions ourselves, we may not know why we are practicing the Noble Eightfold Path, or even Buddhism.
1. What is the message the Buddha is sending across to us?
2. Why am I practicing Buddhism?
3. How do I cultivate according to what the Buddha taught?
Without knowing the answer to these three questions, our practice will be in vain, and we would have wasted our time, and have to start all over again.
In summary I will provide four important points regarding Right Understanding:
1. Right Understanding of the Causes and conditions
2. Right Understanding of the Law of Karma
3. Right Understanding of Impermanence
4. Right Understanding of Enlightenment
If you look closely, there is "Right Understanding" to all these four Right Understandings. Hence it is important to fully understand these four concepts before thinking about the how to practice. These are the foundations to every Right Cultivation. If not, we may go astray ourselves, and worse, lead others into the fire, thinking that it is paradise.