The heart of wisdom is to develop the right view — that is, what Siddhartha himself did when he left home. He realized that there was a problem.
So he left home, having decided to find a way to put things right and quiet his own — and everyone else’s — suffering. This is called right intention.
The ethical behavior part of the Eight Valuable Things are things everyone already pretty much knows. Right Speech: don’t lie, don’t slander and gossip, don’t insult people. Right Action: don’t hurt people or animals without necessity, don’t steal, don’t be excessive about sex. (What counts as “excessive” with sex? I think there’s a whole column — at least — in that, but for now, it’s not to use sex in a way that increases suffering: don’t cheat, don’t sleep around enough that you feel bad about it.) More positively, Right Action means to be kind, compassionate, and not do things that hurt other people.
The third part of Ethical Conduct is Right Livelihood: making your living in a way that decreases suffering. Buddha’s list of things you shouldn’t do is: don’t sell weapons, don’t trade in slaves, don’t be a butcher, don’t sell intoxicants.
Again, these all show up in what Siddhartha did after he left home — this is basically the life he assumed when he became a wandering monk.
The last three of the Eight Valuable Things are Right Effort, Right Mindfulness, and Right Concentration. I’m piling them all together because, honestly, they all seem like parts of the same thing. Right effort is to direct your mind to suffering and the source of suffering; right mindfulness is to see and understand that source of suffering completely; and right concentration is to allow the mind to settle into a single point of focus, to bring all these things together without distraction.
Which brings us back around to my Birkenstocks. Thirty years ago, I was a young guy about to go to grad school, with a new wife, on his honeymoon, and those Birkenstocks were new and stiff. There’s really probably not an atom left that was part of “me” when that was happening, or if there is it’s just by chance; the Birkenstocks, with the new soles, and new uppers, and new cork, share very little with the Birkenstocks I bought that day in Berkeley. My Birkenstocks, and me, and you, and my cats, and the car I bought two weeks ago, and these cloud-capp’d towers, the gorgeous palaces, the solemn temples, the Great Globe itself, all are heaps of things that come together, and come back apart, and change forms, all as a result of cause and effect.
That’s really the key to all of Buddhism and all of Enlightenment — and each of the factors in the Eightfold Path really are there because they help you arrive at that understanding of things as they are.