This term means "indefinite." The rules in this section do not assign definite or fixed penalties, but instead give procedures by which the Community may pass judgment when a bhikkhu in uncertain circumstances is accused of having committed an offense. There are two training rules here.
1. Should any bhikkhu sit in private, alone with a woman on a seat secluded enough to lend itself (to sexual intercourse), so that a female lay follower whose word can be trusted, having seen (them), might describe it as constituting any of three cases — entailing defeat, communal meetings, or confession — then the bhikkhu, acknowledging having sat (there), may be dealt with in line with any of the three cases — entailing defeat, communal meetings, or confession — or he may be dealt with in line with whichever case the female lay follower whose word can be trusted described. This case is indefinite.
Woman here means a female human being, "even one born that very day, all the more an older one." To sit also includes lying down. Whether the bhikkhu sits down when the woman is already seated, or the woman sits down when he is already seated, or both sit down at the same time, makes no difference here.
Private means private to the eye and private to the ear. Two people are sitting in a place private to the eye when no one else is near enough to see if they wink, raise their eyebrows, or nod (§). They are in a place private to the ear when no one else is near enough to hear what they say in a normal voice (§). A secluded seat is one behind a wall, a closed door, a large bush, or anything at all that would afford them enough privacy to engage in sexual intercourse.
For a bhikkhu to sit in such a place with a woman can be in itself a breach of Pc 44 (see the explanations for that rule) and affords the opportunity for breaking Pr 1 and Sg 1, 2, 3, & 4 as well — which is why this case is called indefinite.
If a trustworthy female lay follower happens to see a bhikkhu with a woman in such circumstances, she may inform the Community and charge him on the basis of what she has seen. Female lay follower here means one who has taken refuge in the Buddha, Dhamma, and Saṅgha. Trustworthy means that she is at least a stream-winner. Even if she is not a stream-winner, the Community may choose to investigate the case anyway; but if she is, they have to. The texts do not discuss cases in which a man is making the charge but, given the low legal status of women in the Buddha's time, it seems reasonable to infer that if a woman's word was given such weight, the same would hold true for a man's. In other words, if he is a stream-winner, the Community has to investigate the case. If he isn't, they are free to handle the case or not, as they see fit.
The wording of the rule suggests that once the matter is investigated and the bhikkhu in question has stated his side of the story, the bhikkhus are free to judge the case either in line with what he admits to having done or in line with the trustworthy female lay follower's charge. In other words, if his admission and her charge are at variance, they may decide which side seems to be telling the truth and impose a penalty — or no penalty — on the bhikkhu as they see fit.
The Vibhaṅga, however, states that they may deal with him only in line with what he admits to having done. The Commentary offers no explanation for this point aside from saying that in uncertain cases things are not always as they seem, citing as example the story of an arahant who was wrongly charged by another bhikkhu of having broken Pc 44.
Actually, the Vibhaṅga in departing from the wording of the rule is simply following the general guidelines the Khandhakas give for handling accusations. Apparently what happened was that this rule and the following one were formulated early on. Later, when the general guidelines were first worked out, some group-of-six bhikkhus abused the system to impose penalties on innocent bhikkhus they didn't like (Mv.IX.3.1), so the Buddha formulated a number of checks to prevent the system from working against the innocent. We will cover the guidelines in detail under the adhikaraṇa-samatha rules in Chapter 11, but here we may note a few of their more important features.
As explained under Sg 8, if Bhikkhu X is charged with an offense, the bhikkhus who learn of the charge are duty-bound to question him first in private. If he admits to having done as charged, agrees that it is an offense, and then undergoes the penalty, nothing further need be done (Mv.IX.5.6). If he admits that he did the act, but refuses to see that it is an offense or to undergo the penalty, then if the act really did constitute an offense, the Community may meet and suspend him (Mv.IX.5.8; Cv.I.26). The Khandhakas (Mv.IX.1.3 and Cv.XI.1.10) show that "not seeing an offense" does not mean that one denies doing the act; simply that one does not agree that the act was against any of the rules.
If, however, X denies the charge, and yet some of the members of the Community suspect him of not telling the truth, the issue has to go to a formal meeting. Once the case reaches this stage, one of only three verdicts is possible: that the accused is innocent, that he was insane at the time he committed the offense (and so absolved of guilt), or that he is not only guilty as charged but — for having dragged out his confession to this point — also deserves a further-punishment transaction (Cv.IV.14.27-29), which is the same as a censure transaction (Cv.IV.11-12).
When the Community meets, both the accused and the accuser must be present, and both must agree to the case's being heard by that particular group. (If the original accuser is a lay person, one of the bhikkhus is to take up the charge.) The accused is then asked to state his version of the story and is to be dealt with in accordance with what he admits to having done (Mv.IX.6.1-4). Cv.IV.14.29 shows that the other bhikkhus are not to take his first statement at face value. They should press and cross-examine him until they are all satisfied that he is telling the truth, and only then may they pass one of the three verdicts mentioned above.
If necessary, they should be prepared to spend many hours in the meeting to arrive at a unanimous decision, for if they cannot come to a unanimous agreement, the case has to be left as unsettled, which is a very bad question mark to leave hovering over the communal life. The Commentary to Sg 8 suggests that if one side or the other seems unreasonably stubborn, the senior bhikkhus should lead the group in long periods of chanting to wear down the stubborn side.
If a verdict is reached but later discovered to be wrong — the accused got away with a plea of innocence when actually guilty, or admitted guilt simply to end the interrogation when actually innocent — the Community may reopen the case and reach a new verdict (Cv.IV.8). If a bhikkhu — learning that a fellow bhikkhu actually was guilty and yet got away with a verdict of innocence — then helps conceal the truth, he is guilty of an offense under Pc 64.
Obviously, the main thrust of these guidelines is to prevent an innocent bhikkhu from being unfairly penalized. As for the opposite case — a guilty bhikkhu getting away with no penalty — we should remember that the laws of kamma guarantee that in the long run he is not getting away with anything at all.
Although these guidelines supercede both aniyata rules, the rules still serve two important functions:
1) They remind the bhikkhus that charges made by lay people are not to be lightly ignored, and that the Buddha at one point was willing to let the bhikkhus give more weight to the word of a female lay follower than to that of the accused bhikkhu. This in itself, considering the general position of women in Indian society at the time, is remarkable.
2) As we will see under Pc 44, it is possible under some circumstances — depending on the bhikkhu's state of mind — to sit alone with a woman in a secluded place without incurring a penalty. Still, a bhikkhu should not blithely take advantage of the exemptions under that rule, for even if his motives are pure, his actions may not appear pure to anyone who comes along and sees him there. These rules serve to remind such a bhikkhu that he could easily be subject to a charge that would lead to a formal meeting of the Community. Even if he were to be declared innocent, the meeting would waste a great deal of time both for himself and for the Community. And in some people's minds — given the Vibhaṅga's general rule that he is innocent until proven guilty — there would remain the belief that he was actually guilty and got off with no penalty simply from lack of hard evidence. A bhikkhu would thus be wise to avoid such situations altogether, remembering what Lady Visākhā told Ven. Udāyin in the origin story to this rule:
"It is unfitting, venerable sir, and improper, for the master to sit in private, alone with a woman... Even though the master may not be aiming at that act, cynical people are hard to convince."
Summary: When a trustworthy female lay follower accuses a bhikkhu of having committed a pārājika, saṅghādisesa, or pācittiya offense while sitting alone with a woman in a private, secluded place, the Community should investigate the charge and deal with the bhikkhu in accordance with whatever he admits to having done.
2. In case a seat is not sufficiently secluded to lend itself (to sexual intercourse) but sufficiently so to address lewd words to a woman, should any bhikkhu sit in private, alone with a woman on such a seat, so that a female lay follower whose word can be trusted, having seen (them), might describe it as constituting either of two cases — entailing communal meetings or confession — then the bhikkhu, acknowledging having sat (there), may be dealt with in line with either of the two cases — entailing communal meetings or confession — or he may be dealt with in line with whichever case the female lay follower whose word can be trusted described. This case too is indefinite.
This rule differs from the preceding one mainly in the type of seat it describes — private to the eye and private to the ear, but not secluded. Examples would be an open-air meeting hall or a place out in the open in sight of other people but far enough away from them so that they could not see one wink, etc., or hear what one is saying in a normal voice. Such a place, although inconvenient for committing Pr 1, Sg 1 & 2, or Pc 44, would be convenient for committing Sg 3 & 4 or Pc 45. As a result, the term woman under this rule is defined as under those rules: one experienced enough to know what is properly and improperly said, what is lewd and not lewd.
Otherwise, all explanations for this rule are the same as for the preceding rule.
Summary: When a trustworthy female lay follower accuses a bhikkhu of having committed a saṅghādisesa or pācittiya offense while sitting alone with a woman in an unsecluded but private place, the Community should investigate the charge and deal with the bhikkhu in accordance with whatever he admits to having done.