In Hinduism, there was the idea that words said in a prestige language were magic. People at has some pre-Sassurian ideas about sound and meaning, namely that there was something doggy about the sounds d-o-g and something catty about c-a-t. Since then, this has been proven nonsense, or at best, words of similar meaning can group together in how they sound. I don’t have the examples handy, sorry. And of course, there is real morphology, where antidisestablishmentarian has a bunch of parts that mean something, but on the other hand, carpet doesn’t have parts, but it looks like it.
Back to India. They imagined there were seed syllables, the syllables mean something (as if car in carpet really meant car!) The sounds were typically vowels and liquids, less typically any sort of consonant that completely blocks the passage of air. “kit cat” would be a lousy mantra. Try to chant it… it doesn’t roll of the tongue. But “lily” does. By this reasoning, you can have obstruent consonants at the beginning of a mantra, but not the middle– nothing that blocks the breath.
So fast forward to now. Meditation is popular. We often do secular meditation using numbers, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5,… 10, repeat. If you go over 10, you know your mind has wandered. Or in traditional chanting, aka noisy meditation, we chant something, usually 2000 year old Sanskrit phrases that are untranslatable nonsense, agrammatical strings of themes (bija syllables with some sort of symbolic meaning) or possibly bad Sanskrit made up by someone who didn’t actually read or write it (Mantra of Light, I’m looking at you) Some of them are names of god-like Bodhisatvas. I find it endlessly distracting that I’m chanting the name of an imaginary superman.
Another thing that happens with mantras is massive streamlining. Namu Amida Butsu turns into Nembutsu because people are trying to say it 10 times in one breath. Or to say it 100s of time and they want to finish on time to go to work. Which brings up another point, matras act a sort of linguistic clock. If you want to meditate for 20 minutes but don’t have a clock, you can chant x times and on average hit 20 minutes. (sort of like, 1 Mississippi, 2 Mississippi, etc)
Nonsense – “Ya ba da ba do da!” “Hi ho, hi ho, it’s off to work I go!”
Traditional Translations- “Homage to the Amida Bodhisatva” (bleh, unchantable)
Modern innovations- “love and peace…love and peace” (or “love and peace and brownies…”)
The down side of a mantra you understand is that you might get distract by the content of the mantra.
Toki Pona Mantras
Assigning meanings to any percent of the possible syllables would create the possible problem of creating words. So if pon means good, and lon means the universe, no new meanings. If tila means “compassion”, oops, we’ve coined a new word, albeit one only for mantras. Grammar also posses a challenge. In toki pona, all utterances are supposed to be grammatical, else you aren’t doing toki pona. But a Hindu style mantra, might be something like:
pon(a) lon pilin pon(a)…etc.
And that isn’t grammatical. So it’s a community innovation, which may or may not bother you.
Grammatical toki pona mantras would be something like
o jan Puta Amita o tawa e mi tawa ma pona sina!
Anyhow, toki pona mantras will sound better if you drop the final vowels and or n, it will add more vibrations. This actually is a legit toki pona maneuver. Toki pona phonetics were designed to make it easy for anyone to say it, so transformations of the language are legal. For example, you could still express toki pona with all the l’s pronounced as r’s, all the k’s pronounced as g’s etc.
Other Conlang Mantras
One idea is to use articulation symbolism– assign symbolic meaning to each part of the tongue and mouth & construct magic words that have a nice mixture of symbols.
Post written from feedback on facebook conlang group, facebook toki pona group, and toki pona forum.