It has been said that one's initial experiences of rigpa may deserve the title "baby rigpa," and even before that, perhaps "natural mind" or "ordinary mind". Tsoknyi Rinpoche says:
This short moment of recognizing can surely be called mind essence. You can also name it natural mind or ordinary mind, although natural mind is better in this case. It might be a little too early to call it the rigpa of the Great Perfection. But as this state gets more clarified -- you could say more refined -- and becomes the authentic state of rigpa according to Dzogchen teachings, then at that point it will deserve its name. On the other hand, it is also possible that someone might recognize the state of rigpa from the very beginning.
In the beginning, just let it be whatever it is, however it is; just let whatever is known be that, without hope and fear. We call this continuity, however brief it might be, Baby Rigpa. … In the same way, whatever is initially seen as being the view is exactly what you allow to continue.
Dzogchen meditation is to sustain the continuity. It is to give Baby Rigpa breathing space. Up till now, he has been suffocating.
In the Dzogchen tradition, of course, it is imperative to get a pointing out instruction first. In Mahamudra (particularly in the style of Thrangu Rinpoche, who was my first Mahamudra teacher), one may arrive at a first glimpse of thamal gyi shepa via vipashyana meditations. It is my understanding that this initial glimpse may not be as "deep" a recognition as one may receive from a full-blown pointing-out, and that this is okay. With the tiniest glimpse of ordinary mind, one may refine one's view by repeatedly allowing oneself to recognize it, as well as by deepening it with further vipashyana meditations (e.g., coming to experience more deeply that perceptions are mind, that thoughts are mind, etc.).
My first question is: in what way does an experience of "baby rigpa" differ from a "complete" recognition of rigpa? For example, in the latter, it is said that there is absolutely no subject-object duality or sense of time. Could it be that a "baby" experience of this is just a lessened sense of duality and time? Or is it always full-blown, but just experienced for less time? In Rinpoche's online practice manual
I do feel that as I practice, my sense of duality is slowly being eroded -- but I never have moments where it is completely absent. I take this to mean that my experience of the natural state is slowly being refined, and that this may help "ripen" me for a recognition of rigpa (either alone or with another pointing-out). As such, I am practicing by remaining in what I feel to be the natural state, and doing further vipashyana practices.
So my second question is: have I understood correctly? Can one "bootstrap" by having a partial recognition of the authentic state, and refine it with further practice in this state, as well as more vipashyana? Or is it folly to think that one can make progress in this way?
Much of my time is spent in what I could call "thought-free wakefulness," or what feels like a self-aware presence. There is no sense of some concrete thing doing the watching, but there continues to be a sense that objects are being watched. Because "ordinary mind" and rigpa are by definition nondual, and I don't experience all objects as manifestations of rigpa, there is the nagging sense that I'm "doing it wrong" (which I only address between sessions, of course ). So I'm hoping what's really meant is that one attempts to remain in a state which doesn't actively reify these dualities, and they progressively fall away.
(FWIW, I've been given advice here more than once to "stop trying" and "stop worrying," and I'm happy to do that. It would help to know whether my overarching understanding of the process is on track.)