As the Buddha explains, the steps to follow in awakening to the truth, once you’ve heard the Dhamma—such as the teachings of the step-by-step discourse or the four noble truths—you try to remember it.
Then you try to penetrate the meaning of the words. Once you understand them, you ponder them until you find that they make sense: This is called “coming to an agreement through pondering the teachings.”
The purpose of all this thinking is to give rise to the desire to put the teachings into practice.
The Buddha notes that it’s possible to listen to the Dhamma with the purpose of finding fault with it, interpreting it in ways that make no sense, but that defeats the purpose of listening to it in the first place, as a step in putting an end to your suffering.
Although he doesn’t ask you to put your critical faculties aside as you listen, he does advise you to use them wisely: Instead of pouncing on what seems not to make sense as proof that the Dhamma is wrong, you think and then ask questions of the person teaching the Dhamma to gain clarification whenever you can’t resolve your own doubts.
As the Buddha said, he trained his students in cross-questioning—asking the meaning of whatever isn’t clear—so that they could allay their doubts, and then that they be willing to be cross-questioned, too, so that they could help allay the doubts of others.
This means that part of the onus is on the teacher: to present the Dhamma in a clear and convincing manner and to be patient in clearing up points you find unclear.
But part of the onus is also on you, the student, to bring the right attitude to the process of trying to make sense of what the teacher has to say.
This reflection by Ajaan Geoff is from the book, Four Noble Truths, “Pondering the Truth.”