Among the most striking body images in premodern India is the Jain image of the saint or ascetic who has shed all his corrupting karma and become a transcendent, pure being. Although still inhabiting the world, he is yet perfect. As such, all descriptions, all qualifications turn back from him. The use of any adjective is inappropriate and inadequate. He can be described only apophatically, by describing what he is not. And the visual analogue of this method is to portray an image of the conquering saint as an absence.
Dominik Wujastyk is a Research Fellow at the Institute of South Asian, Tibetan and Buddhist Studies, University of Vienna. Republished here with thanks to the author.