I can’t explain what the absolute difference is because of the nature of words. Words are symbols upon which human beings freely and arbitrarily bestow meaning. What is a “saint” to a Hindu may vary from what is a “saint” to a Catholic.
And there’s no sense telling the one that they can’t use the meaning they prefer. One cannot legislate a meaning. Human beings will think what they please.
So we cannot prevent there being different meanings to a word like “saint.”
It isn’t even possible to say what all Catholics might consider to be a saint because one cannot force Catholics to think one way and not another. So I can only really say what I consider to be the difference.
For me, the distinguishing feature of “ascended masters” is that they’ve passed beyond dualistic thinking to unitive thinking. They could not have done so without leading a life that is redolent with the divine qualities.
One cannot rape and pillage and be an ascended master, as far as I know. But if one loves and has compassion and is kind and generous, I think one places oneself on a road that leads to unitive consciousness.
Whatever the case, an ascended master at a minimum recognizes the unity of life, the oneness of it, the fact that we are all One. I cannot say “we are all one” and have it mean anything to me but an ascended master can.
To say that a person has unitive consciousness is to locate the vibrational frequency of that person’s being at a level higher than would situate them in the Third or Fourth Dimensions, both of which see a person retain dualistic consciousness, the awareness of separation, difference, a lack of unity.
The Fourth Dimension on the other side of life is the Astral Plane, the plane of desires. One can exist on the Astral Plane and still have dualistic consciousness. But one cannot exist on the Fifth Dimension, which is commonly called the Mental Plane, and not have unitive consciousness.
So the demarcation line between us and an ascended master is at least entry into the Fifth-Dimensional frequency.
A lot of the ascended masters we know, I believe, are situated on planes much, much higher than the Fifth Dimension. It isn’t discussed much but Kuthumi, St. Germaine, Dhjwal Khul and others, I think, have their native consciousness on a plane more elevated than the Fifth. Nevertheless access into the Fifth is for us what is meant at a minimum by “ascension.”
What a “saint” is depends on which religion is calling a person that. I recall that Catholics have discrete requirements for a person becoming a saint.
The colloquial use of the term usually denotes an enlightened person who demonstrates a reliable level of exemplary behavior; that is, behavior that reliably reflects the divine qualities. I think of St. Francis, St. Clare, St. John of the Cross, or St. Theresa as being good examples.
Eliminating those people who are canonized to satisfy an agenda of pacifying a nation by giving them a saint, those who are genuinely saintly reflect in their words and deeds the divine qualities and are usually found to have experienced a level of enlightenment most often found to be at least what Hindus call savikalpa samadhi or cosmic consciousness. Savikalpa occurs when the kundalini reaches the brow or sixth chakra.
A person is not an ascended master until they experience a level of consciousness much beyond that, called by Hindus sahaja nirvikalpa samadhi. Sahaja occurs when the kundalini reaches past the crown or seventh chakra (Brahmajnana, kevalya nirvikalpa samadhi) and returns to the spiritual heart or hridayam. That attainment results in a permanent heart opening and a return to our natural (sahaja) state of being.
So one can be a saint, colloquially speaking, and not be an ascended master. But most of the foremost of saints are usually found to be both, like the saints I named above, for instance.
Therefore to be saintly is simply to manifest the divine qualities in one’s words and deeds but to be ascended is to have entered at least the Fifth Dimension. Having entered the Fifth Dimension one cannot help but be saintly but I can conceive of saints who may not be ascended.
Therefore I would say that all ascended masters would be considered saintly but not all saints would be considered ascended masters.
To the best of my knowledge, that’s the difference between a “saint” and an “ascended master.”