Dr. Benford: You seem to place emphasis on what knowledge does for you. What about the sheer joy of discovering how nature works? For example, now we think that we understand matter like this (pointing to the grass). We think that we know from experiments, theory, and analysis that it is made up of particles that we cannot see, and we can analyze the properties of it through experiment. We know that it is made up of molecules. We understand some of the forces that hold it together, and this is the first time we knew this. We didn't know it before.
Prabhupāda: But what is the benefit? Even if you knew every particle of this grass, what would be the benefit? The grass is growing. It will grow with or without your knowledge. You may know it or not know it, but it will not make any difference. Anything you like you may study from a material, analytical point of view. Any nonsense thing you take you can study and study and compile a voluminous book. But what will be the use of it?
Dr. Benford: I seem to view the world as the sum of its component parts.
Prabhupāda: Suppose I take this grass. I can write volumes of books - when it came into existence, when it died, what the fibers are, what the molecules are. In so many ways I can describe this insignificant foliage. But what is the use of it?
Dr. Benford: If it has no use, why did God put it there? Isn't it worthwhile studying?
Prabhupāda: Our point is that you would rather study the insignificant grass than the God who has created everything. If you could understand Him, then automatically you would understand the grass. But you want to separate His grass from Him, to study it separately. In this way you can compile volumes and volumes on the subject; but why waste your intelligence in that way? The branch of a tree is beautiful as long as it is attached to the main trunk, but as soon as you cut it off it will dry up. Therefore, what is the use of studying the dried-up branch? It is a waste of intelligence.
Dr. Benford: But why is it a waste?
Prabhupāda: Certainly it is a waste, because the result is not useful.
Dr. Benford: Well, what is "useful"?
Prabhupāda: It is useful to know yourself—what you are.
Dr. Benford: Why is knowledge of myself better than knowledge of a plant?
Prabhupāda: If you understand what you are, then you understand other things. That is called ātma-tattva, ātma-jñāna, self-knowledge. That is important. I am a spirit soul, and I am passing through so many species of life. But what is my position? I don't wish to die, because I am afraid to change bodies. Therefore, I am afraid of death. This question should be raised first: I don't want unhappiness, but unhappiness comes. I don't want death, but death comes. I don't want disease, but disease comes. I don't want to become an old man, but old age comes anyway. What is the reason that these things are coming by force? Who is enforcing these things? I do not know, but these are the real problems. I don't want excessive heat, but there is excessive heat. Why? Who is enforcing these things? Why are they being enforced? I don't want this heat; what have I done? These are real questions, not just studying foliage and writing volumes of books. That is a waste of energy. Study yourself.
(Srila Prabhupada Conversation, Los Angeles, October, 1973)