Different schools of Buddhist thought hold different opinions on whether the Eightfold Path is the only way for enlightenment, whether it is the best way to get enlightenment, whether following the Path guarantees enlightenment. It is clear that each principle on the Noble Eightfold Path is related to the fundamental Buddhist value of nonattachment.
This anecdote is widely thought to represent the importance of giving up all one has, including all the emotional attachments to family, friends, and places. (Incidentally, this mandate is echoed by Jesus Christ in the Gospels, but as a Christian principle it receives far less attention.)
Therefore, the fact that Siddhartha left his home and all he held dear is thought to be, not only a parable about the importance of nonattachment, but an instruction that spiritual seekers in the Buddhist tradition should rid themselves of these attachments first, in order to progress toward their own enlightenment.
History of Buddhism is thousands of years old. Over the course of this time span the system of thought has undergone innumerable changes and branched into different versions. Thus, any statement about what Buddhism teaches must be accompanied by some degree of equivocation, unless it is a factual statement about history of Buddhism or contents of its texts.
This is especially true with regard to the Noble Eightfold Path and the principle of nonattachment. The majority of practitioners of Buddhism around the world do not give up their possessions and leave their families. Instead of taking nonattachment to this extreme, most Buddhists engage in this practice in ways compatible with daily life.
As per one school of thought, nonattachment is a mental state, not a material state. It doesn't matter, whether one accumulates wealth or raises a family, as the enlightened spirit is completely indifferent to all states of affairs in the material world. This introduces one of the most widely known paradoxes of Buddhism, directly relating to nonattachment.
Although Buddhists are encouraged to cultivate nonattachment, ridding themselves of all emotional ties to the world and coming to understand the fundamental valueless nature of everything that happens in this life, the argument has been made that nonattachment itself constitutes a kind of attachment.
People who hold this opinion claim that striving for nonattachment is still striving, and one is attached to nonattachment because one is trying to achieve that state.
A common approach to nonattachment is to consider it a mental state. So, even if the person has family or job, he can practice nonattachment by limiting the degree of emotional affect by these things. To some, mainly in the West, this is like a heartless, noncommittal philosophy, as many Buddhists do not worship deities like many monotheistic practitioners.
However, by adopting this attitude toward live and the universe, Buddhists can work on perfecting the Noble Eightfold Path by engaging in its recommendations: right view, right intention, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration.
No matter what stage a person is at in his or her own spiritual journey, giving pause to consider the principle of nonattachment can help with progress in these eight steps.