Enlightenment is a word that bears many meanings and ideas. Often, the word enlightenment is connected with the image of yogis, or to cliché and cheesy new agers, or it is applied only to those in monasteries or in monastic lifestyles. Some have not even the faintest idea of what enlightenment means from a fundamental standpoint. And when you couple the word enlightenment with the word ascension, the confusion grows.
To define enlightenment is difficult, but in general terms it is when the mind and soul reach a high level of awareness, peace, and love. Ascension is a bit more abstract (as if the previous one is not). Ascension requires that the person have a set of spiritual beliefs that describe the life-cycle of the soul, meaning reincarnation. To believe in ascension you have to believe that the soul can and has descended, for you cannot have one without the other. This then makes the idea of and belief in enlightenment a lot more approachable. Those who believe we only get one life and one chance while still holding a rather spiritual view of life can believe in enlightenment, because you can achieve enlightenment in one lifetime. In order to ascend, the work of previous lives affect the current life and the outcomes of the future lives. Hence, ascension is a more complex, heavy, concept to live by. If you achieve enlightenment, let’s say today, you will be able to continue to live your life for years. If you ascend today, well, it means you are free from earthly bounds, all earthly bounds, meaning your body, meaning death.
Of course, there are different perspectives and beliefs, but the aforementioned are simplified versions of spiritual ideas. You don’t have to believe in reincarnation to believe in ascension. Everyone has different beliefs and ways of mixing them and practicing them.