I’m still reading about Esoteric Buddhism, so I’m no expert and may mis-speak. However, while reading about esoteric Buddhism, I got a bunch of fake linguistics ideas.
Esoteric vs Exoteric Readings
The exoteric reading is the way you’d read a text and simply understand it. No secret messages. But if each thing and action is actually a symbol of something else, then you get an esoteric, secret reading. It’s post hoc magical thinking to think that there really was an encoded message, but people didn’t dismiss the idea of esoteric readings, so was there any benefit to the action? I think so, I think it works as a creativity device. Take a text, imagine that there was a secret interpretation and find it.
I think some language and syntaxes are going to be more given to an esoteric reading. For example, in toki pona, most sentences follow the same form. So, as a contrived example, “Let’s go shopping” and “We attack at dawn” would still follow a subject-verb-DO-prep phrases pattern.
Polysemy and homonymy helps create intentional esoteric readings. So if a language really did define “Let’s=We” and “attack=go shopping” and “missing time marker = dawn” we’d have an intentional esoteric reading. Without such a huge amount of homonymy, esoteric readings would be accidental or occasional at best. But post-hoc estoteric readings would only be restricted to your imagination.
So an esoteric reading is an act of communication system construction, a new mapping of meaning onto an existing syntactic structure.
Mantras are magic formulas. Some are perfectly intelligible, usually invocations of powerful beings. Namo Amida Butsu! Hail the Amiddha Bodhisattva!
Some are nearly unintelligible, but when written in Chinese, the radicals do mean something. It’s like canard about the word “crisis” have two symbols that each on their own mean something that has a clever relationship to the compound word. In a dhirani (mantra w/o meaning), the Chinese is your substrate for an esoteric reading.
Again, this is an act of communication system creation, sort of like if you discovered an ancient text and by fiat decided it was a recipe for bread by matching up words with an English recipe. This of course would fall apart if you applied the trick to an additional undeciphered text.
Anyhow, what can you do with this? Maybe it’s a good practice for language creation, which often stalls at picking a phonetic inventory. Take a non-sense phrase, and do an esoteric reading. Your esoteric reading is sort of mini-conlang.