There are several issues here, first the issue of ‘will’ or ‘free will’ and beside that the issue of consciousness.
I would recommend looking at my Enigma of the Axial Age where I construct a version of Samkhya, with reference to J.G.Bennett. And Kant/Schopenhauer.
Before discussing that we might cite the Advaita tradition which via its Brahman/Atman perspective sees the problem of consciousness resolved by seeing that it is behind the ‘all’. This view is a potent viewpoint, but it doesn’t say anything about ‘will’. The Indian tradition is strange in this respect.
In any case, in Enigma of the Axial Age I consider the triple aspect of the hyponomic, autonomic, and hypernommic, i.e. the realm of the material, or physics, the life zone and a higher realm that is our constant preoccupation as a spiritual realm. The strict materiality of Samkhya, and Bennett is a reminder that the hypernomic is material also, but in a sense that is not clear to us. In Bennett the lowest cosmic energy in the hypernomic is consciousness! Whatever that means. Bennett is useful because he correlates Samkhya with modern thinking, but fails to consider the noumenal/phenomenal aspects, with ‘will’ either in the noumenal or somehow straddling both.
We have all the pieces, save that Advaita doesn’t quite gel with our updated Samkhya: Bennett rendered over to Schopenhauer.
Our best guess then is that the noumenal aspect of will stands beyond even the hypernomic which is a material superstrate: we can’t figure this out because consciousness, while material, is a cosmic energy and has a different character from the material studied by physics.
We should think then that consciousness emerges via developmental evolution (i.e. not darwinian) as a penetration of the autonomic in the levels of awareness of the ‘animal’ (or even plants?) coming to fruition in homo sapiens with its many dimensional consciousness (often discovered in meditation). Calling all these ‘consciousness’ is confusing, but basically the nature of consciousness (really what we call ‘self-consciousness’, what mindfulness seekers are looking for) is seen as ‘cosmic energy’ at the lowest level of the hypernomic. The ‘will’, which doesn’t appear in yoga or buddhism (but it must in some other form) gets a strong hint from Schopenhauer: it is the thing in itself, or the noumenal aspect of nature. And it is a realm of ‘freedom’ in some sense or senses, a statement requiring care. we see that man can be said to have will free or not as an aspect of this larger portrait, which isn’t explained by the discussion of consciousness, which we are considering is a ‘material’ aspect of the hypernomic, material by definition in some sense unknown to us. There could be another confusion: the execution of the will can create a state of changed consciousness (we assume as much when we use the term ‘pay attention’, i.e. activate consciousness via an act of will). There are many perplexities here, but seeing the noumenal aspect of the will can help here. Unfortunately both Bennett and Samkhya seem to miss this noumenal aspect of will, which would strictly speaking be beyond knowledge, and Bennett’s construct of Samkhya nonetheless expresses the classic gunas of that ancient spiritual discourse in terms of the will. I would have to assume that the gunas are confused by Indic yogas as between manifestation (the phenomenal) and the thing in itself, the noumenal.
In any case, even without solving all the problems here, we see at once why free will debates are so intractable: will is either noumenal or has a noumenal and phenomenal aspect. The phenomenal aspect will subject to causality, in Schopenhauer, and this is why so much confusion reigns.
Meanwhile Advaita-ists and Samkhya are traditionally at loggerheads (the famous attacks of Shakara on Samkhya) but I don’t buy it. Clearly both subjects have a common ancestry. Pace Bennett, we see that Samkhya has fallen into a muddle.
Let’s stop there for a moment, but noting that acting from the noumenal aspect of one’s will is not so easy! And yet, via Kant, we must suppose that man’s ethical behavior has a sort of hotline to that, yet this in the midst of considerable mechanized behavior. Further confusing is that a ‘true act of will’ would be timeless and yet activate the causally bound ‘phenomenal’ aspect of will.
We have all the pieces of the puzzle in one place, although Advaita and Samkhya show a divergence of perspectives, or so it seems.
Bennett almost got it right, and is fundamental in any case in see the ‘gunas’ as triads of the will. That breakdown gives us an inkling of the solution to the ‘free will’ question, but not to its absence in Advaita.
Small wonder debates here go around in circles.