There is no difference per se between ascension as a generic process and enlightenment or illumination.
The Ascension we’re going through on Dec. 21, 2012 (or earlier) is an enlightenment. However it has some extra features about it that make it different from the generic process of enlightenment associated with it, that persuade me to call it “enlightenment plus” and I’ll get to those differences below.
By the same token there are many levels of enlightenment stretching all the way back to the final mergence with God. That comes to us so many lifetimes down the road that we have no conception of that event.
In just the Third-Dimensional range, there are at least four stages of enlightenment: (1) spiritual awakening, which occurs when the kundalini reaches the fourth-chakra, (2) savikalpa samadhi, when the kundalini reaches the sixth chakra, (3) Brahamjnana or God-Realization, seventh chakra, and (4) sahaja nirvikalpa samadhi, spiritual heart or hridayam. We can have each of these enlightenment experiences and still remain in the Third Dimension.
But Ascension will mean that we leave the Third/Fourth Dimension of our physical and spirit lives and migrate to the Fifth Dimension. This is a difference between enlightenment per se and our present Ascension.
If we were on the spirit side of life, an ascension would involve the passage from one dimension to another. So when we pass from the Astral Plane (Fourth Dimension) to the Mental Plane (Fifth Dimension), we’re said to have ascended because we’ll shed our astral body for our mental body. But when we pass from the Middle Summerlands of the Astral Plane to the Higher Summerlands, we’re not said to have ascended because we retain our astral body. Movement from one subplane to another does not involve ascension; movement from one plane or dimension to another does involve ascension.
That is why Shankara would say: “When all the five coverings are removed, the pure Atman [the Self or Christ] is revealed.” (1) By successive ascensions, we remove the five coverings or bodies associated with the previous plane or dimension until, well after the experience Shankara is referring to, all that is left is God Himself/Herself. We have uncovered or revealed God by successive ascensions.
In our Ascension on Dec. 21, 2012, we’ll ascend with the physical body, which is a first and new development in ascension. Because we will, we’ll need to raise the vibrations of that body gradually as it changes from carbon-based to crystalline-based so that it can exist in the higher vibrations of the Fifth Dimension. But in all ascensions on the spirit side of life, we would have simply shed the previous body.
But where our Ascension on 21/12/12 resembles all other ascensions is that we’ll pass from one plane or dimension to another; in this case, from the Third/Fourth Dimensions associated with our usual physical and spirit lives to the Fifth Dimension. So, because it represents a dimensional shift, we call it an ascension.
So, yes, it does involve a process of enlightenment. Whether that is the enlightenment associated with the seventh chakra, which is called Brahmajnana and does not result in a permanent heart opening or liberation from rebirth or the enlightenment associated with the spiritual heart or hridayam, known as sahaja nirvikalpa samadhi, which does result in a permanent heart opening and liberation, I don’t know. I should probably ask Archangel Michael about that.
That’s my understanding. There’s no difference between Ascension and enlightenment in many respects. But our 21/12/12 Ascension is enlightenment plus, because in it we also get to take our physical bodies with us (renewed, of course), need not die, get to leave the Third Dimension for the Fifth (whereas in ordinary enlightenment we would not get to leave), etc.
(1) Shankara in Swami Prabhavananda and Christopher lsherwood, Shankara’s Crest-Jewel of Discrimination. Hollywood: Vedanta Press, 1975; c1947, 56. There are countless levels of enlightenment beyond the one Shankara is discussing here.